« VorigeDoorgaan »
While at supper on one occasion tête-à-tête at Jack's Coffee House Dean Street Soho*, on rumps and kidneys, Johnson observed, "Sir, these rumps are pretty little things, but then a man must eat a great many of them before he fills his belly." "Aye, but," said Goldsmith, "how many of these would reach to the moon?" "To the moon! aye, Sir, I fear that exceeds your calculation." "Not at all, Sir," says Goldsmith, "I think I could tell." "Pray then let us hear." "Why one if it were long enough." Johnson growled at this reply for some time, but at last recollecting himself, "Well, Sir, I have deserved it; I should not have provoked so foolish an answer by so foolish a question."
In classical quotation he was frequently happy, applied to passing characters and circumstances. Thus, according to the late Sir George Beaumont, on first meeting with a military man to whom he took dislike from what seemed to be coarseness if not ferocity of manners, and on being told that this was a mistake and that the rude soldier was a man
*This house was one of their occasional resorts, as well as of Reynolds and others of their friends. Garrick recommended it, from being kept by Mr. John Roberts one of the singers of Drury Lane theatre, from whose Christian name it is said to have derived its appellation, for when a question arose as to which tavern a party should adjourn to, the common answer was to Jack's. It is said to have been, even in 1770, the oldest tavern in London but three, and having continued in the family of the present occupier since that time, is now probably the oldest. At present it is known as Walker's Hotel, and the proprietor shows the room which the wits of that age frequented.
of letters and a scholar, he said, “Then I must be
Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
Of his simplicity or absence of mind, several anecdotes were told by the lively men with whom he associated; Beauclerk, Foote, Richard Burke, Garrick, Colman, and others; and these if even problematical, it may be considered the duty of a biographer not to omit. Professed wits are not celebrated for accuracy of detail; strict matter of fact militates often against a good story; and a very small foundation of fact is sufficient on which to erect a superstructure which if not very true may be very amusing.
Mr. Beauclerk, whose humour turned almost every incident into a subject for ridicule, tells the following story to Lord Charlemont at this period (November 1773).
"Goldsmith the other day put a paragraph into the newspapers in praise of Lord Mayor Townshend.* The same night he happened to sit next to Lord Shelburne at Drury Lane; I mentioned the circumstance of the paragraph to him and he said to Goldsmith, that he hoped he had mentioned nothing about Malagrida in it. 'Do you know,' answered Goldsmith, that I never could conceive
* This has been sought for in three or four journals without success; the circumstance is unlike his usual habits as he meddled not in city matters, or even in general politics.
the reason why they call you Malagrida, for Malagrida was a very good sort of man.' You see
plainly what he meant to say, but that happy turn of expression is peculiar to himself. Mr. Walpole says that this story is a picture of Goldsmith's whole life."
The blunder, though the meaning was obvious, arose, if it really took place, from the omission of a word or two which might readily occur in the hurry of conversation: "I never could conceive the reason why they call you Malagrida as a term of reproach;" but the vein of ridicule evinced in the following passage from the same letter induces a suspicion of the truth of the whole, for the story is equally gravely told. "Johnson has been confined for some weeks in the Isle of Sky; we hear that he was obliged to swim over to the main land taking hold of a cow's tail. Be that as it may, Lady Di has promised to make a drawing of it."
From the same witty source the following story found circulation.
When dining with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith found early peas upon the table, which however from mismanagement of the cook proved to be yellow; when some one sitting next him observed that they had better be sent to Hammersmith. "And why thither ?" asked the Poet. "That is the way to Turn'em green." The pun pleased him so much as to be thought worth repeating the first favourable moment as one of his own. An opportunity soon offered or was chosen for this
purpose, when Burke who was equally ambitious of the credit of a good pun chanced to sit next him; the peas were again with an air of disapprobation of their colour, recommended the journey to Hammersmith; the question why it should be so was again repeated, when Goldsmith forgetting his cue replied, "That is the way to make 'em green." Perceiving his error in the want of applause from the company, he immediately added "I mean that is the road to Turn 'em green." Again discovering that the witticism fell pointless, he started up disconcerted and quitted the table abruptly.
Another anecdote, told to Mr. Croker by Colonel O'Moore, is no doubt as he justly remarks, coloured or exaggerated, or indeed nothing more than another version of his alleged jealousy of the ladies in Flanders. As the Colonel and Mr. Burke were proceeding to dine with Sir Joshua, they observed Goldsmith, also on his way thither, standing near a crowd who were staring and shouting at some foreign women in the windows of a house in Leicester Square. "Observe Goldsmith," said Burke to his companion, "and mark what passes between him and me by and by at Sir Joshua's." Proceeding forward, they reached the house before him; and when the Poet came up to Mr. Burke, the latter affected to receive him coolly, when an explanation of the cause of offence was with some urgency requested. Burke appeared reluctant to speak, but after some press
ing said, that he almost regretted keeping up an intimacy with one who could be guilty of such indiscretions as he had he had just exhibited in the square. The Poet with great earnestness protested he was unconscious of what was meant.
Why," said Mr. Burke, "did you not exclaim as you were looking up at those women, what stupid beasts the people must be for staring with such admiration at those painted jezebels while a man of your talents passed by unnoticed?" Goldsmith was astonished. " Surely, surely, my dear friend I did not say so." Nay," replied Mr. Burke, "if you had not said so how should I have known it?" "That's true," answered Goldsmith with great humility; "I am very sorry-it was very foolish; I do recollect that something of the kind passed through my mind, but I did not think I had uttered it."
Of the waggery occasionally practised upon him, the following is an instance which occurred at the house of Mr. Burke and has been told in another place*, though as illustrative of character, no apology will be necessary for its introduction here. The lady who personated her part so well was the sister of the lady of General Haviland who resided at Penn in Buckinghamshire, and whose son married the niece of Burke.
"Mrs. Balfour, who was a woman of lively dis
*Life of Burke, vol. i. p. 454.- Communicated by Thos. Haviland Burke, Esq.